I was at a service as a visitor recently and most of the pretty-trite, repetitive singing had a theology, explicitly or implicitly, of Jesus’ death draining all of God’s Wrath. God, apparently, we were singing, was able to discharge all His wrath onto Jesus and so had no wrath left for us who would have rightly deserved it. And so – “Thank you Father…”, “Praise you Jesus,…”, etc.
That recent experience followed by seeing the image above on facebook, put up by a priest friend of mine, leads to this post.
Because it just won’t do.
In my prayer last Friday, like many of you, I prayed with the most-read-that-day passage Luke 11:15-26:
Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house.
Setting one aspect of God, God’s compassion and love, to crush and vanquish another aspect of God, God’s wrath, just will not do. God is not divided.
There is a secondary, liturgy-legislation discussion here. Other churches have an agreement on what hymns, songs, chants, etc can be sung. We, Anglicans in NZ, do not. So verse by verse, as they come up on the projector screens, we, in the congregation, often have not the slightest idea what we, by our singing, are going to be assenting to next!
We do need to be honest: “God’s wrath” is in the Bible. How do we view it there?
We can think of “God’s wrath” as being our experience of the results of wrongdoing; as our experience of the effect of sin, of going against God’s loving will. Our sin, our wrongdoing, has natural, inevitable consequences – relationships are broken, the environment is devastated. We can see biblical writers expressing these consequences as “God’s wrath”.
Or, we can see a trajectory of understanding expressed as the biblical narrative unfolds – from a more primitive understanding of the one we call “God” to maturer insights. The earlier biblical material can show a more capricious deity, including bursts of wrath. In the biblical narrative we can see “God” growing out of his wrath! “You have heard that it was said, but …”
There are several models and images attempting to explain how we are saved, and what we are saved from. “Penal Substitutionary Atonement” is the term for the model that Jesus’ death sates God’s wrath which otherwise would have been directed at us. There are complex interpretations of Penal Substitutionary Atonement by erudite academics which may very well remain within the bounds of orthodoxy but, for the average Christian, including it seems the lyricists of the songs and choruses I was presented to sing, the oversimplification is not orthodox, and it presents not only a distorted, unhelpful image of God, but encourages us to grow into the likeness of that unhelpful image.
We need to examine the theology of what we are singing. How broad is it? Is it presenting only one facet of the Christian jewel? Is it encouraging the diversity of worshippers present to grow?
Thankfully, we do not believe in a theory of redemption – we believe in a Redeemer.